Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Monday, April 20, 2015

New Brookings series starts by identifying "12 key people to watch in marijuana policy"

Regular readers already know that The Brookings Institution has been committed to doing thoughtful and cutting-edge research, reports and blogging on the legal, political and social realities surrounding modern marijuana reform.   Today, the front-page of the Brookings website has this announcement and link:

In the past few years, marijuana policy has emerged as a key issue in American politics. In this post — the first in the FixGov blog's 4/20 blog series — John Hudak lays out 12 people to watch in the future of marijuana policy.

I very much like John's list of a dozen key marijuana reform players, and here I will note how he introduces his list and a few of its first four notable names:

Marijuana policy has emerged as a key issue in American politics, particularly over the past few years. The issue is being debated at local, state, and federal levels, and has captured the attention of media organizations and research institutions nationwide and around the world.

Navigating the policy terrain and understanding what is happening in this fast-paced, dynamic, and changing arena is often tough.  Knowing who is influential can be even more difficult. Because of the expansive nature of the policy conversation there are hundreds of key players making a difference — on both sides of this issue — and that list is seemingly ever growing.

In this post, I list 12 people who each bring something interesting to the table and may play an important role in the future of this policy area.  They may not be the most important, though surely some of the people on this list could be considered so. Nor is this list ranked in order of importance or impact. Instead, it offers a brief overview of how these 12 individuals may help shape the future of cannabis policy....

1. Hillary Clinton, 2016 Presidential Candidate

2. Rand Paul, U.S. Senator & 2016 Presidential Candidate

3. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General

4. Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney General designee

April 20, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 17, 2015

"Dr. Sanjay Gupta: It's time for a medical marijuana revolution"

150414135452-weed-3-sanjay-gupta-medium-plus-169The title of this post is the headline of this new CNN commentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, which is something of a preview of a new documentary on medical marijuana titled "Weed 3: The Marijuana Revolution" airing at 9 pm Sunday on CNN. Here is how the commentary starts:

I see signs of a revolution everywhere.  I see it in the op-ed pages of the newspapers, and on the state ballots in nearly half the country.  I see it in politicians who once preferred to play it safe with this explosive issue but are now willing to stake their political futures on it.  I see the revolution in the eyes of sterling scientists, previously reluctant to dip a toe into this heavily stigmatized world, who are diving in head first.  I see it in the new surgeon general who cites data showing just how helpful it can be.

I see a revolution in the attitudes of everyday Americans.  For the first time a majority, 53%, favor its legalization, with 77% supporting it for medical purposes.  Support for legalization has risen 11 points in the past few years alone.  In 1969, the first time Pew asked the question about legalization, only 12% of the nation was in favor.

I see a revolution that is burning white hot among young people, but also shows up among the parents and grandparents in my kids' school.  A police officer I met in Michigan is part of the revolution, as are the editors of the medical journal, Neurosurgery.  I see it in the faces of good parents, uprooting their lives to get medicine for their children -- and in the children themselves, such as Charlotte, who went from having 300 seizures a week to just one or two a month.  We know it won't consistently have such dramatic results (or any impact at all) in others, but what medicine does?

I see this medical marijuana revolution in surprising places.  Among my colleagues, my patients and my friends.  I have even seen the revolution in my own family.  A few years ago, when I told my mother I was investigating the topic for a documentary, I was met with a long pause.

"Marijuana...?" She whispered in a half questioning, half disapproving tone.  She could barely even say the word and her response filled me with self-doubt.  Even as a grown man, mom can still make my cheeks turn red and shatter my confidence with a single word. But just last week she suddenly stopped mid-conversation and said, "I am proud of you on the whole marijuana thing." I waited for the other shoe to drop, but it didn't. Instead, she added, "You probably helped a lot of people who were suffering."

April 17, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

An international perspective, via Uraguay, on marijuana reform

As highlighted in many prior posts, students in my marijuana law school seminar are in the midst of assembling readings and leading discussions concerning the research topic(s) that are the focal point for class project(s).  This week, in addition to discussions of law enforcement, tax and black market issues, a student is scheduled to discuss international marijuana reform.   Here are links to the student-assembled readings on this topic:

CATO working paper, "Marijuana Policy in Colorado" 

Article from The Huffington Post, "There's A Lot More To Uruguay's Legal Weed Than The $1-A-Gram Price"

CATO commentary, "International Analysis: Uruguay and Marijuana Legalization"

CNN commentary, "Finally, a nation legalizes pot"

April 16, 2015 in Assembled readings on specific topics, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (7)

Friday, April 10, 2015

"What’s Right for Ohio: A Discussion about Marijuana Reform"

The title of this post is the title for a terrific event scheduled to take place on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at 12noon in the William B. Saxbe Law Auditorium at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. I am so very pleased and excited that this event was constructed and will be moderated by one of the students in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar, and here is his description of the event with titles/links for some participants:

What’s Right for Ohio: A Discussion about Marijuana Reform will be a discussion about the central issues and interests surrounding marijuana reform in the state of Ohio. With public opinion polls showing that support for recreational marijuana in Ohio has grown above 50%, and as skepticism about the policy of absolute prohibition abounds, the state of Ohio is at the forefront of the marijuana reform debate unfolding nationwide. This discussion will seek to inform the debate that will develop around Ohio in the coming months and years regarding what we, as Ohioans, think the right policy for our state and our country should be. As we know from history, as Ohio goes, so goes the nation. Confirmed participants in the event include:

April 10, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Colorado files SCOTUS brief responding to neighbors' lawsuit (and other states provide amicus support)

As reported in this Denver Post piece, headlined "Colorado officials defend marijuana legalization at U.S. Supreme Court," Colorado state lawyers have now officially responded, four months after the initial complaint, to the lawsuit filed by Oklahoma and Nebraska about marijuana reform in the Mile High State. Here are the basics:

Arguing that two neighboring states are dangerously meddling with Colorado's marijuana laws, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman on Friday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a landmark lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma over marijuana legalization. In a brief submitted in response to the lawsuit, Coffman wrote that Nebraska and Oklahoma "filed this case in an attempt to reach across their borders and selectively invalidate state laws with which they disagree."

The two states' lawsuit seeks to strike down Colorado's licensing of recreational marijuana stores. Nebraska and Oklahoma officials argue that the stores have caused a flood of marijuana into their states, stretching their law enforcement agencies thin and threatening their sovereignty.

But Coffman argued the lawsuit, if successful, would only worsen problems involving black-market marijuana in all three states. Colorado's regulations for marijuana stores "are designed to channel demand away from this black market and into a licensed and closely monitored retail system," she wrote. If the stores are closed, Colorado would be left with laws that legalize marijuana use but do not regulate its supply. "This is a recipe for more cross-border trafficking, not less," Coffman wrote.

Friday's brief is the first time Colorado officials have had to make a full-throated argument in favor of the state's marijuana legalization laws. In doing so, the brief spends several pages noting states' lengthy history of trying to regulate marijuana, "a product whose use is staggeringly widespread." Nearly half of all states now have laws legalizing recreational or medical use of marijuana, the brief states....

Nebraska and Oklahoma filed their lawsuit directly with the Supreme Court because it involves a dispute between states. Before the lawsuit gets a hearing, the nation's highest court must first decide whether to take up the case. There is no timeline for the decision.

The lawsuit does not challenge Colorado's laws for medical marijuana use or sales, nor does it seek to strike down laws legalizing recreational marijuana use and possession. Instead, Nebraska and Oklahoma argue in the lawsuit that Colorado's licensing of marijuana stores "has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system."...

In a statement Friday, Coffman — a Republican who opposed marijuana legalization — said she shares Nebraska and Oklahoma's concerns about illegal marijuana trafficking. Coffman's brief, though, pins the blame for that trafficking not on Colorado's marijuana stores but on "third parties who illegally divert marijuana across state lines." The brief points to the recent indictments of 32 people accused in a massive marijuana-smuggling ring as evidence that Colorado authorities are continuing to bust traffickers.

Colorado's laws received support Friday from Coffman's counterparts in Washington state and Oregon — where recreational marijuana is also legal. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Friday in support of Colorado's laws, Washington and Oregon attorneys general argue that Colorado's laws don't hurt Nebraska and Oklahoma's abilities to enforce their own laws.

"Nebraska and Oklahoma retain the constitutional powers of every other sovereign State in the nation," the brief argues. "They can investigate and prosecute persons who violate their laws; neither is powerless to address marijuana within their borders."

The full 35-page brief filed by Colorado is available at this link.

I tentatively predict that the Supreme Court will refuse to hear this case, but I confidently predict that most everything about modern marijuana law and policy is pretty darn unpredictable.

Some prior related posts:

March 28, 2015 in Court Rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Too many marijuana candies and handgun make for suicidal mix in sad Colorado case

After three years of legalization and 15 months of recreational sales, there is now another sad case in which a premature death apparently can be closely connected to the consumption of edible marijuana.   This local story, headlined "Keystone visitor commits suicide after eating marijuana candies," provides these details:

A Tulsa, Oklahoma man visiting Keystone committed suicide after consuming a large amount of edible marijuana candies, according to a Summit County Coroner’s report. Summit County Coroner Regan Wood said the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. Luke Gregory Goodman, 22, was staying in Keystone with his cousin at the time of the incident, and was taken to Summit Medical Center Saturday night. Later, he was flown to St. Anthony’s Lakewood Hospital, where he was kept on life support for two days until he died Tuesday morning.

Wood said that Goodman’s cousin reported he and Goodman had consumed edibles earlier Saturday. A CBS4 report says Goodman bought $78 of edible marijuana with his cousin, Caleb Fowler, in Silverthorne. Goodman consumed five peach tart candies in total, each containing 10 mg of the active ingredient in marijuana, the recommended dose for an adult. The back of the package said the candies were supposed to take 1-2 hours take effect.

According to CBS4, Fowler said that several hours later, Goodman became “jittery” then incoherent and talking nonsensically. “He would make eye contact with us but didn’t see us, didn’t recognize our presence almost. He had never got close to this point, I had never seen him like this,” Fowler said.

Later, when his family left the condo, Goodman refused to join them. According to the report, Goodman may have used a handgun he normally carried for protection. Taneil Ilano, a Public Information Officer with the Summit County Sheriff’s Department, said a witness reported that Goodman consumed about four marijuana edibles that day, described as gummy bears. She added that police were dispatched around 10 p.m. on Saturday.

Luke Goodman’s mother, Kim Goodman, told CBS4 that her son had no signs of depression or suicidal thoughts, and believed the large amounts of edibles triggered his death. “It was 100 percent the drugs,” she said. “It was completely because of the drugs — he had consumed so much of it.”

The toxicology results are pending and will take about three weeks to be finalized.

As noted in this prior post from nearly a year ago, in the first part of 2014 two deaths in Denver were linked to marijuana intoxication .  I have been pleasantly surprised that there have not been more of these kinds of tragic cases resulting from misuse of the drug, but my heart now  goes out to everyone connected to this latest tragic incident.

Prior related post:

March 26, 2015 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (4)

Comparing successful state recreational marijuana initiatives and Ohio proposals

In addition to having a notable guest speaking in my marijuana law school seminar this week (basics here), and having one student do a presentation on drugged driving (basics here), another student this week is giving a presentation on textual and substantive similarities between the adult-use recreational marijuana initiatives/regimes that have been enacted in four states to date (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington)  and Ohio's three recreational marijuana proposals.  Links to basic legal information about the four legalization states can be found via this NORML webpage, and the basic text or a summary of the Ohio proposals are here:

 
 
 
 
 
 

March 26, 2015 in Assembled readings on specific topics, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Calling out political hypocrisy in discussion of marijuana reform

This recent commentary about marijuana reform from The National Memo, which is headlined "Half A Heart On Marijuana Better Than No Heart At All," makes a powerful point about what some politicians say about modern marijuana reform in light of their own admitted history with this drug. Here are excerpts from the piece which caught my attention:

Jeb Bush admits to having smoked pot in high school.  Actually, Bush’s dorm room at Phillips Academy Andover reportedly served as stoner central, where students would smoke hash to the strains of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.”

Kids from modest backgrounds were being jailed at that time for doing far less.  Today, even a minor drug conviction bars one from many jobs, including joining the military. Yet Florida’s former Republican governor evidently doesn’t think his illegal behavior should disqualify him from serving as commander in chief.  Why would he?  The current holder of that job, President Barack Obama, also admitted to smoking pot, as did his predecessor, Jeb’s brother George W. Bush.

If Jeb owned up to the rank injustice and fully supported ending the war on marijuana, that might lighten the hypocrisy factor.  But Bush piously insists that he’s against legalizing marijuana.  If states want to do it, that’s OK, he says.  But that leaves the vast majority of Americans subject to arrest for smoking a joint after dinner.

Here’s an idea.  Why doesn’t Bush volunteer to do the time behind bars that youths from less powerful families were being sentenced to in the 1960s?  He could share a cell with Patrick Kennedy, the former liberal congressman from Rhode Island.

In the wee hours of May 4, 2006, Rep. Kennedy crashed his car into a barricade on Capitol Hill while under the influence of who knows how many controlled substances. He served in Congress for four more years, leaving at a time of his choosing.  Kennedy is now a staunch foe of legalizing marijuana, but, like Bush, has not offered to do his time. Given Kennedy’s decades of addiction, that would be no small piece of change.

Many argue that marijuana at high potency and in great quantity can be harmful.  That may be so, but the same is true of many things we can legally consume.  If states’ rights is the excuse for easing up on the ludicrous drug war, so be it. Any change that makes life less miserable for good people — and saves the taxpayers huge sums — is to be cheered. But oh, the waste!

March 24, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lots of great new (law student) commentary at Drug Law & Policy

"The Kids Aren't Alright, But Older Adults Are: How Medical Marijuana Market Growth Impacts Adult and Adolescent Substance-Related Outcomes"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new SSRN piece authored by Rosanna Smart  providing an empirical reassessment of some data on the impact of medical marijuana reform on drug use and abuse. Here is the abstract:

Public opinion has grown more favorable to legalizing the sale and use of cannabis; many states now have "medical marijuana" laws (MMLs), and a few have legalized commercial production and sale for non-medical purposes.  Prior research examining the effects of MML adoption has largely found reassuring evidence on the consequences of such policies -- no impact on adolescent cannabis use, and large decreases in crime rates, motor vehicle fatalities, suicides, and prescription opioid overdoses for adults.  However, medical marijuana regimes vary greatly, and simple comparisons of states with such laws to states without them miss that variability.

Reanalysis using a more sensitive measure of MML penetration (per-capita adult medical marijuana registration rates) confirms that growth in medical marijuana market size lowers alcohol and opioid-related poisoning deaths for older adults, and lessens traffic fatalities in accidents involving older drivers.  However, larger medical marijuana markets lead to increased cannabis consumption by adolescents, accompanied by increases in traffic fatalities and alcohol poisoning mortality for this age group.

March 19, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Will Patrick Kennedy and SAM come out in support of the CARERS Act?

Rotator-kennedy-updAs noted in prior posts here and here, the biggest news this week in the marijuana reform arena has been the introduction of a bipartisan federal medical marijuana reform bill by  Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, the CARERS Act.   The preamble to this bill expressly provides that its purposes are to "extend the principle of federalism to State drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana."

Notably, this statement of purposes and the overall structure of the CARERS Act would seem to be in harmony with the stated goals of the leading figure and group opposing significant marijuana reform, namely Patrick Kennedy and Smart Approaches to Marijuana.  Notably, on this page under a picture of Patrick Kennedy, SAM proclaims it is "acting in the best interests of public health and safety." In addition, Kennedy in this recent commentary piece stated that he favors "reforming our drug laws and emphasizing public health" and that we "should indeed reform broken laws that disproportionately harm ethnic and racial minorities and the poor."  

Similarly, this About page on the SAM website states that the organization is comprised of "medical doctors, lawmakers, treatment providers, preventionists, teachers, law enforcement officers and others who seek a middle road between incarceration and legalization [to provide a] commonsense, third-way approach to marijuana policy is based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety" (emphasis added).  In addition, this SAM information page about cannabis-based medicines states that SAM advocates for "rapid expansion of research into the components of the marijuana plant for delivery via non-smoked forms" and a special FDA reform that "allows seriously ill patients to obtain non-smoked components of marijuana."

Based on these various stated commitments by Patrick Kennedy and SAM, I certainty think it would be quite consistent with their advocacy or them to support expressly and vocally the CARERS Act. As I read the CARERS Act, it seeks to cautiously reform federal marijuana laws that are obviously "broken" because they fully preclude state lawmakers and administrators, researchers and doctors from being seriously involved and invested in reforms to state marijuana laws "based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety."   In addition, something like the CARERS Act is absolutely essential for rapid expansion of medical research in this arena.  Indeed, the powerful press conference introducing the CARERS Act had lawmakers, parents and patients all powerfully explaining why federal medical marijuana reform is essential to ensuring more needed medical research, and in order to fully ensure a serious and enduring commitment in both federal and state laws to marijuana policy "based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety."

Notably, there is not yet any mention of the CARERS Act on the SAM website, and I am inclined to guess that Patrick Kennedy and other SAM leaders are working on a formal response.  For the reasons outlined above, I sincerely hope that Patrick Kennedy and other SAM leaders soon become vocal proponents of the CARERS Act.  Historically, a problematic mix of politics and fear, not reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety, has dominated federal federal drug laws.  I hope that SAM will, through support of the CARERS Act, help ensure public that we start turning the corner and head on a sounder scientific and public health path in the months and years to come.

Prior related posts:

March 12, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Spotlighting political realities for GOP leaders looking to 2016

Pew-marijuana-chartRegular readers have likely already figured out that I am already obsessed with how marijuana reform politics are going to play out in the run-up to the big 2016 election.  Consequently, I found notable and blogworthy this effective new Forbes commentary by Jacob Sullum on this topic, headlined "Ted Cruz's Cannabis Conversion Reflects The Political Prudence of Marijuana Federalism." Here are excerpts:

At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week, Ted Cruz responded to a question about marijuana legalization in Colorado by endorsing a federalist approach to the issue. “I actually think this is a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the laboratories of democracy,’” the Texas senator said. “If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”

Those remarks seemed to contradict the position Cruz had taken a year before, when he criticized the Obama administration for failing to aggressively enforce the federal ban on marijuana in states that have legalized the drug for medical or recreational use. Speaking at a Texas Public Policy Foundation conference in January 2014, he described the Justice Department’s prosecutorial restraint, which is designed to respect state policy choices, as an abuse of executive power.

Cruz’s apparent turnaround reflects a political reality that he and other candidates for the Republican presidential nomination will have to confront. Although most members of their party still support pot prohibition, most Americans don’t, and even within the GOP the staunchest drug warriors are dying off, while Republicans in their 20s and 30s strongly favor legalization. As with gay marriage, Republican politicians face a generational shift that will leave them struggling to placate social conservatives without alienating younger, more tolerant voters. Cruz’s calibration—I don’t personally favor legalization, but as a conservative constitutionalist I think the issue should be left to the states—is the easiest way to strike that balance....

After Colorado and Washington voters approved marijuana legalization in 2012, a CBS News survey found that only 27 percent of Republicans agreed with that policy. Yet 65 percent of Republicans thought “laws regarding whether the use of marijuana is legal or not should be…left to each individual state government to decide.”

Marijuana federalism also appeals to Republicans who support legalization, and there are more of those than there used to be, although they still represent a minority. According to surveys conducted last year, roughly a third of Republicans think pot should be legal. But the proportion is dramatically higher among young Republicans. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in February 2014 found that 63 percent of Republicans born between 1981 and 1996 favored legalization.

The outlook for Republican prohibitionists seems even bleaker when you look at survey data for the general population. Several recent surveys, including Pew’s, the Gallup Poll and the General Social Survey, indicate that most Americans favor legalization. Last year’s General Social Survey put support for legalization at 52 percent, 10 points higher than in 2012. It seems likely that the upward trend will continue, since support is inversely associated with age. According to Gallup’s 2013 results, Americans 65 and older were the only age group in which a majority still opposed legalization....

Since marijuana legalization will be on state ballots next year and will continue to be a source of friction with the federal government, the candidates who have not taken a position yet probably will be pressed to do so as the 2016 presidential campaign heats up. If they are smart, they will parrot Cruz, Perry, Bush, and Paul. Marijuana federalism is a rare opportunity for politicians to be prudent, principled, and popular.

Some prior related posts:

March 6, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Is there any solid data on impact of 2009 Ogden medical marijuana memo?

Download

This week in my marijuana seminar we will be watching and discussing the terrific (though already dated) documentary "Code of the West" about medical marijuana reforms in Montana.  Among the many stories effectively documented by this movie is the important reality that, while Montana enacted via voter initiative medical marijuana reforms in 2004, the medical marijuana industry in the state only became active and prominent after the issuance of the 2009 Ogden Memo. This memo from the Obama Administration's Justice Department stated that the federal government would not prosecute "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."

In addition to the coverage of this story in Montana in this great documentary, I have seen a number of anecdotal reports about how the medical marijuana industry kicked into high gear in many western states as a result of the 2009 Ogden Memo, especially states like California, Colorado and Washington. But, to my knowledge, nobody has yet done any systematic research on the impact of the Ogden Memo, in individual states or nationwide, on the number of state-compliant medical marijuana dispensaries or the number of persons working in and around the medical marijuana industry or the number of persons registered for or regularly obtaining marijuana in conjunction with a doctor's recommendation.

I am busy trying to finish an article complaining about the lack of rigorous social science research surrounding the real impact of state-level marijuana reforms, and I am especially intrigued and troubled by how little systematic data I can find concerning the medical marijuana industry and users. If anyone knows of any significant recent data collections or other research on these fronts, please let me know.

March 4, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

"Nonserious Marijuana Offenses and Noncitizens: Uncounseled Pleas and Disproportionate Consequences"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new UCLA Law Review comment by Jordan Cunnings. Here is its abstract:

Marijuana is being decriminalized in many states and localities throughout the United States. While recreational use of marijuana is legal in only a handful of states, in many other areas it has become a type of pseudo-violation with such low criminal penalties that defendants may be issued just a citation or ticket and are often not entitled to the assistance of a public defender. While low-level marijuana offenses have fewer meaningful consequences within the criminal justice system in these jurisdictions, these offenses continue to create serious immigration consequences for noncitizen offenders. The Immigration and Nationality Act defines “conviction” in such a way that even civil infractions with very low penalties count as drug convictions that make lawful permanent residents deportable.

The combination of lowered criminal penalties for marijuana offenses and severe resulting immigration consequences causes significant problems for noncitizens. First, as the penalties for marijuana offenses are lowered at the state and local levels, a defendant is less likely to have a right to appointment of a public defender when charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana. This situation implicates potential violations of the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel in criminal proceedings, which has been held to cover affirmative advice on the immigration consequences of a criminal charge. Additionally, even with the assistance of a public defender, individuals may still be unable to avoid the harsh immigration consequences that often result from marijuana offenses. These harsh consequences violate our society’s understanding of proportionality of punishment in criminal law. Even though immigration law is traditionally insulated from proportionality considerations because of the plenary power doctrine, deportation for low-level marijuana offenses provides one example of why this doctrine should be reconsidered.

March 3, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, February 27, 2015

"Obama backs pot decriminalization efforts"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new CNN article reporting on some notable new comments from President Obama concerning marijuana law, policy and reform.  Here are the comments:

President Barack Obama said states could overhaul their laws to discourage marijuana the same way "we've been able to discourage a lot of other bad things that people do" -- like using tobacco.

His comments to Kansas City-based KMBC during a series of interviews Thursday afternoon with local television stations, the same day that Washington implemented a new law decriminalizing the use of small amounts of marijuana over the objections of some congressional Republicans.

"I think that we have to separate out legalization -- there's a lot of concern about drug abuse of any sort by our children and the general population -- versus the heavy criminalization of non-violent drug offenses," Obama said. "And I think that a lot of states are taking a look to see, do we have proportionality in terms of how we are penalizing the recreational user."

He said the United States has managed to discourage the use of other harmful products like tobacco without stiff jail sentences. "I think that's what every state across the country, including some very conservative states that don't have a lot of tolerance for marijuana, are looking at," Obama said, "is do we want to be throwing people in jail for five, 10, 15 years if they're not major drug dealers but they're using a substance that's probably not good for them but is probably not hurting too many other people?"

February 27, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Learning so much already even in first few hours of first Tribal Marijuana Conference

ImagesI feel extraordinarily fortunate to have been invited to participate the nation’s first ever Tribal Marijuana Conference taking place as I write this post from a huge ballroom at the Tulalip Resort Casino, just North of Seattle.   This post from Canna Law Blog discusses the basics, and this agenda highlights all the informed speakers in the mix who are already making this an amazing event in which I am learning so much.  

For example, right now on the podium now are Thomas Carr, the Boulder City Attorney, and Pete Holmes, Seattle City Attorney, are providing an extraordinary set of insights about local enforcement of local laws in the first two recreational marijuana states. Carr also reported that, because Dunkin' Donuts does not have a store in Boulder, it is easier to get marijuana (and munchies) in Boulder than Dunkin' Donuts (and Munchkins) in some parts of Colorado. Of course, that should not worry public health advocates too much, given that there is good reason to believe Munchkins are perhaps much more addictive and harmful than marijuana.

1403002903506This local article, headlined "Indian tribes looks to marijuana as new moneymaker," highlights some reasons why there are hundreds of persons at this event:

After making hundreds of billions of dollars running casinos, American Indian tribes are getting a good whiff of another potential moneymaker: marijuana.

The first Tribal Marijuana Conference is set for Friday on the Tulalip Indian Reservation in Washington state as Indian Country gets ready to capitalize on the nation’s expanding pot industry. Organizers said representatives from more than 50 tribes in at least 20 states have registered, with total attendance expected to surpass 300....

Robert Odawi Porter, one of the conference organizers and the former president of the Seneca Nation of Indians in New York, said tribes have “a tremendous economic diversification opportunity to consider” with marijuana commerce. He said the event would bring together “trailblazers” in the industry who will help tribal leaders understand the complex issues involved.

While it’s unknown how many tribes ultimately will seek to take advantage of the change, one analyst warned that any tribe expecting to hit the jackpot might be in for a surprise, particularly as the supply of legal pot in the U.S. increases. “People keep forgetting it’s a competitive market,” said Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, who served as Washington state’s top pot consultant. “And it’s cheap to grow.”

In Washington state, where retail pot stores opened in July, Kleiman said pot growers who sold their product for $21 a gram only a few months ago are now getting $4 a gram. “The price of marijuana is the price of illegality,” he said.

But the issue is generating plenty of buzz among tribal leaders. On Monday, tribal officials at the National Congress of American Indians winter meeting in Washington, D.C., attended a closed breakout session with two U.S. attorneys to discuss the implications of legalized marijuana....

Even though the talks are in the early stages, many tribal officials are pleased that the Obama administration is giving them the power to proceed. “The position of the administration is a strong indication of their commitment and acknowledgment of tribes’ sovereignty, jurisdiction and governmental authority,” said W. Ron Allen, chairman and CEO of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in Washington state.

Marijuana is a divisive issue among tribes, with many tribal officials worried about high rates of drug addiction among American Indians. Last year, the Yakama Nation decided to ban marijuana from its reservation in south central Washington state. The Tulalip Tribe, located just north of Seattle, voted to work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Justice to try to legalize medical marijuana.

Legalization opponents fear that more tribes will want to begin selling marijuana without understanding the risks. “I worry about this being a big expansion and I worry that the potential consequences – health, safety and legal – have not been properly communicated to them,” said Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group.

Regardless of what tribes decide to do, he warned that the situation could change with the election of a new president in 2016. “I don’t see this ending well for anyone, especially if a new administration decides to enforce federal law,” Sabet said. “The thing people should remember is that marijuana is still illegal – on tribal lands and otherwise – even if the law isn’t being equally enforced.”

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, another of the planned speakers at Friday’s conference, said allowing tribes to legalize marijuana will move pot sales “into the light of day.” And he predicted there would be little change in the amount of pot sold on reservations. “Here’s the worst-case scenario: that a tribe just decides they want to be the epicenter of marijuana production, they want to undercut the state system, they want to be a mecca, if you will,” Holmes said. “I’ve heard no tribe say that. . . . We seem to be able to co-exist quite nicely.”

Kleiman said the tax issue would be one of the toughest to sort out as tribes ponder whether to join the industry. “It’s a big deal for people who are trying to make sense of marijuana policy, because if the tribes are exempt from state law, then the states can’t actually tax and regulate,” Kleiman said. “That would be catastrophic. It’s not a big deal for the tribes because there’s no money in it.”

February 27, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fascinating (federal? federalism?) fracas unfolding over DC marijuana reform inside the Beltway

Images (4)As reported in this local article, headlined "Washington DC Law Legalizing Marijuana Goes Into Effect," an interesting fight is developing among politicians over marijuana reform law and practices in the District of Columbia.  Here are the basics:

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser defied congressional Republicans and implemented D.C.’s new local law allowing its residents to smoke marijuana. In implementing the new pot laws Thursday, Bowser has rebuffed two influential House Republicans who’d warned her that she’d be breaking federal law — and risking retribution.

“We would encourage the Congress to not be so concerned with overturning what 7-in-10 voters said should be the law in the District of Columbia,” Bowser said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Bowser and Washington police implemented a measure approved by D.C. voters in November allowing Washington residents to possess up to two ounces of pot. The allowance applies only to those over 21. In addition, D.C. residents can grow up to six pot plants in their own yards. Buying and selling pot are still illegal, as is smoking in public places. But people can transfer up to one ounce to another person — just not for money.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, said in a letter Tuesday that the city would be violating a spate of federal laws if it went forward with Bowser’s plan to implement the new pro-pot measure.

“We strongly suggest you reconsider your position,” the two wrote to Bowser — while, in a thinly veiled suggestion that there would be consequences for ignoring them, pointing to House rules that give Chaffetz’s panel broad investigative authority.

Bowser, though, brushed Chaffetz and Meadows back on Wednesday, saying they should worry about bigger problems — like funding the Department of Homeland Security, which is set to shut down at week’s end if Congress doesn’t act.

And she took a shot at Republicans who have suggested she could wind up in jail for breaking federal law — even though Congress has no powers to prosecute her. “A lot of reasonable people have a different view of this issue,” she said. “I have a lot of things to do here in the District of Columbia, and me being in jail wouldn’t be a good thing.”

It’s the latest example of the strain between a heavily Democratic city that is ultimately controlled by a Republican-dominated Congress — which couldn’t stop similar marijuana legalization pushes in Colorado and Washington state, but is trying to use its power of the purse to do so this time.

Chaffetz and Meadows pointed to a provision included in a massive spending bill approved by Congress in December that prohibited Washington from legalizing marijuana, or cutting any drug possession penalties.

Bowser has insisted that the district’s measure was enacted before that December vote. But the two Republicans noted that any bill in Washington can’t become local law until it’s been through a 30-day layover period before Congress. Until that happens, they said, the measure can’t be considered enacted — which in this case means it “was not enacted prior to the language in the continuing resolution preventing it from moving forward.”

“If you decide to move forward tomorrow with the legalization of marijuana in the District, you will be doing so in knowing and willful violation of the law,” Chaffetz and Meadows wrote.

February 26, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Newest (and most interesting?) laboratory experiment with marijuana reform officially underway in Alaska

DownloadAs detailed in this lengthy AP piece, headlined "No street parties, no citations: Alaska quietly ushers in legalized marijuana," the state nicknamed The Last Frontier is now an important and especially interesting new frontier in the state-level laboratories of democracy experimenting with recreational marijuana reforms. Here are the basics:

Alaska on Tuesday became the third U.S. state to legalize marijuana. But the historic day passed with little public acknowledgement in a state with a savvy marijuana culture that has seen varying degrees of legal acceptance of the drug for 40 years.

Supporters said the day was a milestone, comparing it to the end of Prohibition. But unlike in Colorado and Washington state, there were no street parties and public smoking displays in Alaska's biggest cities.

Dolly Fleck-Phelps, a Kenai resident with an ancillary marijuana business, said she thought people would look back on the day as a turning point for Alaska. "Absolutely this is history in the making," Fleck-Phelps said. "This is the opening of the door. Now it's time for the real work to begin."

Legalization marked the end of a 43-year political battle for Bill Parker, 70. The Anchorage man, who was listed as a sponsor of the initiative, first banded together with a group of young Democrats elected to the state House of Representatives to introduce a legalization bill in 1972. "Gee, there weren't enough votes to worry about," the retired deputy commissioner of corrections said.

Parker's hopes for legal weed dwindled as he saw Alaska become more Republican and more conservative over the years. He said perhaps the marijuana vote marks the end of that pendulum swing. Now that pot is legal, Parker is ready to take a pause to enjoy the moment, but he said he won't stop fighting. "Well, it makes me feel good. It's not over, of course. The initiative passed by between 5 and 6 percent, so 40 some percent of the people voted against it. Not all of them are ready to lay down and go along," Parker said....

Alaska has had a complicated history with marijuana over the years. The Alaska Supreme Court in 1975 said personal marijuana possession was protected under the state constitution's right-to-privacy clause. In 1998, voters legalized medicinal marijuana. But over the years, state lawmakers twice criminalized any possession, creating an odd legal limbo, and never created rules for medical marijuana dispensaries to operate.

Placing Alaska in the same category as Washington state and Colorado with legal marijuana was the goal of the pro-pot coalition that included libertarians, rugged individualists and small-government Republicans who prize the privacy rights enshrined in the Alaska state constitution....

As of Tuesday, adult Alaskans can not only keep and use pot, they can transport, grow it and give it away. A second phase, creating a regulated and taxed marijuana market, won't start until 2016 at the earliest. That's about the same timeline for Oregon, where voters approved legalizing marijuana the same day as Alaska did. But the law there doesn't go into effect until July 1.

Police throughout Alaska were prepared to hand out $100 citations for anyone caught smoking pot in public, but departments stretching more than 1,100 miles from Nome on the state's western coast to Juneau in the southeast panhandle hadn't issued a ticket during the day. "We haven't even received a call or complaint about anybody doing it," said Steve Goetz, deputy chief for the University of Alaska Fairbanks police department....

Others remained concerned on Tuesday about the details not yet worked out regarding legalization. When the public voted last November to legalize marijuana use by adults in private places, voters left many of the details to lawmakers and regulators to sort out. Elisabeth Schafer, a Sitka resident visiting Juneau for work, said she was worried about the state developing a workable system of regulations. "I just wish we had waited longer as a state," Schafer said. "I don't want to blaze the way for other states."

Among the questions remaining on Tuesday were what public places consumption was prohibited in, and how the regulations for a new commercial industry would look. The initiative bans smoking in public, but it doesn't define what that means, and lawmakers left the question to the alcohol regulatory board. There were missteps even as the board decided pot can't be smoked in places generally accessible to the public, like parks, schools or on the street in Alaska.

Board members met via a teleconference Tuesday, but it started late because organizers gave out the wrong telephone number. The call originated from the board's Anchorage office. However, a locked gate blocked access to the meeting site.

I think Alsaka is an especially interesting state to watch closely in the months and years ahead because it is such a unique state in so many ways: its size, small population, history of libertarian/conservative values and its relative isolation from the rest of the US. Also, Alaska as part of the second set of jurisdictions legalization recreational marijuana, can and should be able to draw some regulatory lessons from Colorado and Washington as it creates a new regulatory structure for a commercial marijuana industry. And, especially as debate over federal marijuana reform begins to heat up in Congress in the months and years ahead, Alaska's two GOP senators might provide to be especially important national players within the establishment of the political party that has been recently most resistant to reform of federal criminal drug laws.

February 25, 2015 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 23, 2015

What might be the modern public health story if marijuana had been kept legal and tobacco cigarettes widely banned?

Students in my marijuana seminar know that I think there is much to think about and learn from the history of (alcohol) Prohibition in the United States and the history of marijuana prohibition.   But I have now learned from this fascinating new Jacob Sullum piece that there was an interesting US history surrounding cigarette prohibition that also should be a lesson for modern marijuana advocates.   The lengthy Sullum piece, which is headlined "Today's Pothead Is Yesterday's Cigarette Fiend," should be read in full, but these passages are what engendered the question in the title of this post:

At first the anti-cigarette campaign, which had close ties to the temperance movement, focused on restricting children's access.  By 1890, 26 states had passed laws forbidding cigarette sales to minors, but many children continued to smoke.  Led by Lucy Page Gaston, a former teacher from Illinois whose career as a social reformer began in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the anti-cigarette crusaders next insisted that complete prohibition was necessary to protect the youth of America.  Between 1893 and 1921, 14 states and one territory (Oklahoma) enacted laws banning the sale of cigarettes, and in some cases possession as well.

Upholding Tennessee's ban in 1898, the state Supreme Court declared that cigarettes "are wholly noxious and deleterious to health. Their use is always harmful; never beneficial. They possess no virtue, but are inherently bad, bad only. They find no true commendation for merit or usefulness in any sphere. On the contrary, they are widely condemned as pernicious altogether. Beyond any question, their every tendency is toward the impairment of physical health and mental vigor."

In contrast to contemporary anti-smoking activists, who talk almost exclusively about the habit's effect on the body, early critics of the cigarette were just as concerned about its impact on the mind.  In the 1904 edition of Our Bodies and How We Live, an elementary school textbook, Albert F. Blaisdell warned: "The cells of the brain may become poisoned from tobacco.  The ideas may lack clearness of outline.  The will power may be weakened, and it may be an effort to do the routine duties of life…. The memory may also be impaired."

Blaisdell reported that "the honors of the great schools, academies, and colleges are very largely taken by the abstainers from tobacco," adding, "The reason for this is plain.  The mind of the habitual user of tobacco is apt to lose its capacity for study or successful effort.  This is especially true of boys and young men.  The growth and development of the brain having been once retarded, the youthful user of tobacco has established a permanent drawback which may hamper him all his life.  The keenness of his mental perception may be dulled and his ability to seize and hold an abstract thought may be impaired."

In the 1908 textbook The Human Body and Health, biologist Alvin Davison agreed that tobacco "prevents the brain cells from developing to their full extent and results in a slow and dull mind." He added, "At Harvard University during fifty years no habitual user of tobacco ever graduated at the head of his class."

These themes were taken up by prominent, widely admired Americans who were troubled by a cluster of traits that would later be associated with marijuana.  "No boy or man can expect to succeed in this world to a high position and continue the use of cigarettes," Philadelphia Athletics Manager Connie Mack wrote in 1913.  Biologist David Starr Jordan, the first president of Stanford University, concurred. "The boy who smokes cigarettes need not be anxious about his future," he said. "He has none."...

In the decades that followed, the cigarette's reputation underwent a complete reversal. Far from sabotaging intellectual achievement and economic productivity, it was seen as facilitating them through the stimulating action of nicotine.  But the dull, listless underachievers described by Ford and Edison reappeared in the 1960s, smoking something else.

Testifying before Congress in 1970, Harvard psychiatrist Dana Farnsworth noted that scientists had come up with a name for the condition that prevented marijuana users from reaching their potential. "I am very much concerned about what has come to be called the 'amotivational syndrome,'" Farnsworth said. ...

A decade and a half later, Robert DuPont declared that "millions of young people are living as shadows of themselves, empty shells of what they could have been and would have been without pot."  In 1989, his first year as the nation's first official "drug czar," Bill Bennett explained how smoking pot affects young people: "It means they don't study.  It causes what is called 'amotivational syndrome,' where they are just not motivated to get up and go to work."

It is plausible, of course, that smoking a lot of pot in high school might interfere with academic performance, just as heavy drinking might. But Farnsworth, DuPont, and Bennett are describing something more than that: a long-lasting impairment of the will that prevents cannabis consumers from being all that they can be....

Despite its continuing appeal as a propaganda theme, the idea that smoking pot makes people unproductive has never been substantiated.  In their 1997 book Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, the sociologist Lynn Zimmer and the pharmacologist John P. Morgan examined the evidence and concluded: "There is nothing in these data to suggest that marijuana reduces people's motivation to work, their employability, or their capacity to earn wages.  Studies have consistently found that marijuana users earn wages similar to or higher than nonusers."

A 1999 report from the National Academy of Sciences noted that amotivational syndrome "is not a medical diagnosis, but it has been used to describe young people who drop out of social activities and show little interest in school, work, or other goal‑directed activity.  When heavy marijuana use accompanies these symptoms, the drug is often cited as the cause, but there are no convincing data to demonstrate a causal relationship between marijuana smoking and these behavioral characteristics."...

Like the symptoms of cigarette use that worried Ford and Edison, the symptoms of marijuana use are often hard to distinguish from the symptoms of adolescence. Peggy Mann's 1985 book Marijuana Alert, which Nancy "Just Say No" Reagan described in the foreword as "a true story about a drug that is taking America captive," is full of anecdotes about sweet, obedient, courteous, hard-working kids transformed by marijuana into rebellious, lazy, moody, insolent, bored, apathetic, sexually promiscuous monsters. "It was very easy for parents to blame marijuana for all the problems that their children were having, rather than to accept any responsibility," observes Harvard psychiatrist Lester Grinspoon, a leading authority on marijuana. "It became a very convenient way of dealing with and understanding various kinds of problems."...

Current fears about marijuana and other illegal drugs, like fears about cigarettes at the beginning of the last century, reflect the sort of worries that reappear in every generation. Parents want their children to be smart, to do well in school, to respect authority, and to become productive, responsible adults.  The dull, lazy, rebellious, and possibly criminal teenager―the cigarette fiend or pothead — is every parent's nightmare. Adults who have no children of their own worry that other people's kids will become tomorrow's parasites or predators, bringing decline and disorder.

Despite all the alarm that drug scares seem to generate, projecting these fears onto physical objects can be reassuring: Just keep the kids away from tobacco or marijuana (or alcohol or MDMA), we are implicitly told, and they will turn out OK. As symbols of all the things that might go wrong on the path from birth to maturity, drugs offer what every adult confronted by a troublesome teenager longs for: the illusion of control.

A few prior related posts:

February 23, 2015 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Marijuana's Pauline Sabin?: "85-year-old Houston woman fighting to legalize marijuana"

I just got finished watching the last segment of the wonderful PBS Prohibition documentary, which stresses the role of  Pauline Sabin, the first woman to sit on the Republican National Committee and the founder of the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform, who helped drive the movement to repeal the 18th amendment.  With that history fresh in mind, I found especially interesting this news report from Texas which has the headline quoted in the title of this post.  Here are excerpts:

"I've always been pretty outspoken," said Ann Lee. At 85 years old, Ann Lee looks like anyone's grandmother. "I don't know whether it's my age, the white hair, what is it, but it does seem to strike a chord," said Lee.

But don't let the white hair fool you. She's a fiery Republican who believes you have the right to use marijuana. "It's just me, I believe in this," said Lee.

For Lee, it's personal. She wasn't always a supporter of weed. That changed when her son was bound to a wheelchair, and needed it to treat his condition. "We realized marijuana wasn't the weed of the devil which I had been known to say," said Lee.

She and her husband Bob fought to legalize weed since then. Bob died last week. Now it's her job to finish what they started together. "This is heady stuff for this lady," said Lee. "I've been an activist for many years, but I've never had the response that I'm now getting."

She knows more about weed than someone half her age, and even has the occasional edible. Activists call her the perfect weapon in the marijuana reform movement. "It's not Republican to support prohibition," said Lee.

Some prior related posts:

February 20, 2015 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)